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The Politics of Contempt

It's not "hope and change."

12:00 AM, May 6, 2010 • By GARY ANDRES
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It also makes the president’s more recent calls for civility – like his commencement speech last Saturday at the University of Michigan where he said: “You can disagree with a certain policy without demonizing the person who espouses it” --  ring hollow or even hypocritical.  The address made him sound like a victim -- the target of over-the-top attacks -- not a perpetrator of the same crime.

Only three explanations for the Democrats’ politics of contempt seem possible.

First, they’re electorally dim-witted or politically tone deaf. I don’t buy this argument. Based on their performance at the polls in 2006 and 2008, first in Congress and then in the race for the White House, most Democrats understand politics.

Second, they believe Americans want Democrats to find and challenge bad guys. Perhaps.  But if the solution to the rogue-induced problem is always the same – create a new federal program, spend more federal money, let Washington figure it out -- many voters get nervous.  They’ve heard it before, and they’re not sure it works.

The third explanation makes the most sense. It’s all about mobilizing the faithful. Going into the first midterm election, the president and Democrats need to reenergize their political base.  Turnout in these contests typically drops 10-20 percent, and it’s important to get supporters to vote. Demonizing Bush, insurers, CEOs, Wall Street could do the trick, while simultaneously playing the victim card might do just that.

Democrats are panicked the bottom could fall out this November, causing them to lose a massive number of congressional seats. Mobilizing base voters could create a firewall of protection from a worst-case scenario.  Building contempt among these core voters is one possible way to do that, but it’s a few degrees lower on the idealism meter than “hope and change.”

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